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Failure to report all the findings of diagnostic tests

A frequent medical negligence issue we see relates to poor communication in radiology and pathology reporting where a failure to report all the findings of diagnostic tests results results in severe outcomes for the patient.

Radiology scans which include: X-Ray, Computed Tomography (CT), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Ultrasound scans are important diagnostic tools for doctors and health care providers to understand what is happening beneath the skin without having to resort to surgery.  Pathology reporting relates to the samples of blood and tissue which are sent to pathology laboratories for review.

Some of the more frequent issues which arise are detailed in the case examples below:

Graham

Graham, a 60 year old man, went to his General Practitioner’s (GP) clinic following an accident.  The GP wanted to exclude the possibility of a fracture and the man was sent for an X-Ray.  The X-Ray report concluded that there was no fracture.  However, it also showed a tumour in the bone.  Graham was not shown a copy of the report and the GP reassured him that everything was normal and failed to communicate that there was a tumour in the bone.

The tumour, which was not cancerous, continued to grow.  Graham went back to the GP complaining of pain in that area.  The GP again failed to tell Graham that he had a tumour which had been picked up on the X-Ray and Graham left reassured that everything was ok.

The tumour of course continued to grow until eventually Graham was sent for another X-Ray.  The tumour was picked up and surgical removal was arranged.

The imaging clinic compared the first X-Ray to the second X-Ray and commented on the growth of the tumour.  Graham became aware that if his tumour had been detected earlier the surgery to remove it would have been less complex and the growing tumour would not have had the opportunity to damage his surrounding tissues.

Here the negligence related to the failure of the GP to report all the findings of the X-Ray report to his patient.

Louise

Louise, a 35 year old woman, went to a skin cancer clinic for a skin check.  The skin cancer doctor at the clinic was concerned about a mole and she took a biopsy of the mole.  The mole was sent to a pathology clinic for analysis.

The results of the analysis reported that mole was cancerous.  Louise underwent surgery to remove the mole and the surrounding tissue.

Louise went on to develop another skin cancer in the same area.  This second skin cancer was a more serious type of skin cancer and by the time it was detected it had already metastasised.  This means that the cancer had spread in Louise’s body.

A re-analysis of the pathology samples of the mole found that there was evidence of the more serious skin cancer in the sample.  At that point in time, the more serious skin cancer was still contained, it had not spread.

Here the negligence related to the failure of the pathology laboratory to report incidental findings of a different skin cancer in their report.  Had this cancer been picked up at an earlier time, Louise could have accessed earlier effective treatment and avoided metastatic cancer.

Rachel

Rachel, a 10 year old girl, suffered with a lung complaint which needed surgery.  The treating medical team arranged for CT scans of her lungs prior to the surgery.  Rachel was treated by two different doctors.  The first doctor, a physician reviewed the CT scans and the CT report.  The second doctor, a surgeon only reviewed the CT report.

There was a problem with the CT report.  The report did not accurately relay the full extent of the problem with Rachel’s lungs.

The surgeon planned the procedure based on the CT report.  She did not actually look at the CT scans.  Had she looked at the CT scans she would have realised that the procedure she had planned was not appropriate.

The surgery went ahead and during the surgery the surgeon realised that the surgery was actually far more complex than she had envisaged.  The complicated surgery resulted in damage to Rachel’s lungs.  Rachel would not have suffered this damage had a different more appropriate procedure been performed.

Here the negligence related to the surgeon’s failure to review the CT scans prior to embarking on complex surgery.

Richard

Richard, a 50 year old man, underwent a colonoscopy.  After the surgery the gastroenterologist told Richard that everything was normal and everything looked healthy but that he had taken samples to send away for analysis.

There was a problem with the samples that had been taken and the pathology clinic’s findings were inconclusive.  The gastroenterologist should have arranged for Richard to undergo a second colonoscopy to get further samples.  Instead Richard was reassured that everything was ok.

A few years later, Richard noticed blood in his stools and weight loss.  He was concerned and so he went to the gastroenterologist.  The gastroenterologist looked at the records and realised that a repeat colonoscopy had been warranted a few years earlier.  An urgent colonoscopy was arranged which revealed advanced bowel cancer.  At that point, the bowel cancer was so advanced that Richard could only be offered palliative treatment.  Had the cancer been diagnosed and treated years earlier after the first colonoscopy it was likely that Richard would have been cured of the disease.

Here the negligence related to the failure of the gastroenterologist to advise Richard that a second colonoscopy was needed due to the inconclusive results of the first sample.

The above scenarios illustrate how a breakdown in communication whether in relation to vital information being left off the report, the failure of the doctor to actually review the report and / or the failure of the doctor to communicate the findings of a report to a patient can have catastrophic, life shortening consequences for patients.

If you are suffering as a result of a failure of a medical professional to report all the findings of diagnostic tests or pathology, we would be pleased to speak with you in an obligation-free consultation to advise you about your options. You can click here to book an appointment or call us on (02) 4050 0330 for a no obligation consultation to discuss your potential medical negligence claim.

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